Turnout and the media

Written By: - Date published: 9:12 am, November 30th, 2011 - 56 comments
Categories: Media, political education - Tags:

Plenty has already been written on the shamefully low turnout in the election. This editorial is typical:

Low voting turnout a product of many factors

Until 30 or so years ago, it was customary for 85 to 90 per cent of those New Zealanders eligible to vote in general elections to do so. From that standpoint, the worry aroused by that figure sliding to 68.8 per cent on Saturday has an obvious validity.

In sum, a million eligible people did not bother to vote. Yet it would be wise to keep this in perspective. The long-term decline in voting, especially by young adults, is far from restricted to this country. Add in some peculiarities associated with Saturday’s poll and the turnout becomes more explicable.

Probably the most notable of these is that many saw the result as a foregone conclusion. It is telling that the previous lowest turnout occurred in 2002. Just 72.5 per cent of those eligible voted in a contest that pitted a high-flying Helen Clark against Bill English and a struggling National Party.  …

Part of the reason for this may have been the truncated campaign. Rugby’s World Cup cut back the time for the presenting and dissection of policies. …

Other factors have also been advanced. A Statistics New Zealand analyst has suggested many migrants could be among those who failed to vote. If so, that is understandable. It takes time for immigrants to accustom themselves to the politics, issues and voting systems of a new country. …

Undoubtedly more people stay away from polling stations because of apathy or a sense of disconnection. That remains a persistent concern. Even if certain quirks explain much of Saturday’s low turnout, the unfortunate outcome is that Parliament has become less and less truly representative of New Zealanders.

I’d like to add something to the list that the anonymous editorial writer appears not, for whatever reason, to have thought of.  That item is the role of the media in politics.

Most of the media (honourable exception for public service) exists as a medium to entertain, and to sell advertising.  It feeds on sensation and pseduo-celebrity.  It doesn’t provide a forum for fact-checking, in depth analysis, or considered argument.  Consequently it reduces politics to a circus of photo opportunities and sound-bites. Conflict and “scandal” are highlighted, and we almost never get to hear about important social or policy issues (again with occasional rare exceptions like the TV3 investigations into child poverty).  It is any wonder that people get pissed off with politics and just switch off?

I’m not saying that it’s “all the media’s fault” – it is what it is, and we have to live with it.  But in any consideration of reasons for falling voter turnout, an honest media would have to put itself on the list.

56 comments on “Turnout and the media”

  1. ghostwhowalksnz 1

    The newspapers are virtually irrelevant for a large section of the population and prime time TV shows get around 10% audience share.

    The Herald would love to have cooking and crime on its front page- one out of two isnt bad- just like the TV.

    The only way to make politics fit a TV screen is chose between reality style format or the 60 mins doco format of “sick kids-wronged woman-kiwi battler-celebrity spin” or a gruesome combination of all of the above

    • Survivour – Watch a woman living in South Auckland on the DPB as she struggles to keep her family fed and healthy. Denigrated in the media and talkback as examples of prolifigate and irresponsible breeding who are draining the life out of the country, she strives to find a job in a depressed economy before the state legislates against her ability to participate in society.

      The Amazing Race – Social Darwinism at its finest. This series follows the life of two upwardly mobile, aspirational families as they compete with each other to accumulate as mush riches, goods and status as possible. Set in the leafy suburbs of Remuera ones these families compete for the very Puritan goal of eternal salvation as demonstrated by proof of their excessive wealth. The other family fight to establish their place at the top of the evolutionary food change. Whose world view will be proved correct?

      Temptation Island – Five investment bankers are give large amount of other people’s money (OPM) and are asked to trade OPM to buy and sell imginary products in a deregulated market with no oversight. Except for you of course! Watch this fly-on-the-wall series deals are done, bonuses are paid and coke is snorted.
      Do they have the expertise to break laws and not get caught? Can they lose all of the OPM and have the skills to get the taxpayers to bail them out. If they crash the economy do they have the skills to able to, not only escape any consequences, but to retire with enormous personal wealth, golden parachutes and exceptional bonuses.?

      The Weakest Link – Take 15 entirely useless individuals who have deluded themselves into thinking that they are the chosen people and are efficient and competent in all things – give them huge budgets, large expense accounts, an extravagant retirement scheme, the ability to write the laws to suit them, free international travel, subsidised housing, staff who will do their bidding, a sycophanting media who hang on their every word.
      Who fill fuck up first? Who will fuck up the most?
      Who is the weakest link?

      Dead or no Deal – In a depressed international economy what people would be prepared to pay for your asset. You don’t even know if people have the money to purchase your asset. Everyone is telling you it’s not a good idea and you shouldn’t sell. What are you going to do? Will you make a great deal of money or will you piss away the hard earned captial of many generations? Deal or no Deal?

      Shows under development…..

      Last Comic Standing – 120 people compete to see who can score points by making people laugh – set against large screen depicting poverty and rioting in the streets.

      Farmer wants a subsidy – who can dip into the wallets of taxpayers and take their money to give to farmers.

      Pimp My Ride – With an unlimited budget of other people’s money, can you trade your old BMW’s for unnecessary new ones and hope no one notices?

      The Cougar – Watch as a predatory single mother in charge of government welfare delivery attempts to snag a younger man. “Look out Gareth, Mama’s comin’!”

      Who want to be a millionaire? – A game show that uses friends of politicians as they seek to be government consultants.

      Tool Academy – speaks for itself

      • ianmac 1.1.1

        ghost You must have put much work into your plans. Great. Each has a truism. (Specially look forward to the Predator trying to be attractive enough to attract Gareth – or any normal man.)

      • Bored 1.1.2

        Truly brilliant, job as the next Head of Broadcasting coming your way with the incoming 2014 Labour government.

      • Cin77 1.1.3

        Outstanding list! Of course no one would watch it though; who wants to see REAL reality TV?

    • SHG 1.2

      Another possibility: lots of people wanted to see John Key remain as PM, saw the polls, concluded that the outcome they desired did not require their vote, stayed home.

  2. Tom Gould 2

    But to do so would be to admit the media bosses and the big chooks have a role in influencing who people vote for, or whether they vote at all, and that would shatter their entire cover story. You know the one, the old ‘who us, we just fairly report the facts, you guys make up your own minds’ scam.

  3. freedom 3

    As a clear example of how the Media colluded with the will of the smiling one, you will notice there is an explosion of doom and gloom business articles that were noticeably absent in the lead up to the election. From first print on Monday the gravitas of the economic situation is a stark contrast to the hyperbole of hope that was the meme of the previous weeks.

  4. Agreed entirely.

    The comment that really annoyed me was that “they are all the same” that was trotted out occasionally. This election Labour’s policy alternative was very clear and detailed and thought through.

    • T 4.1

      This is purely conjecture, but I think people a receptive less to policy and more to branding. A manufacturer may brand itself by alluding to a particular lifestyle. I think a political party can do something similar by being very clear on its values, and banging that drum incessantly. Two months of policy releases can’t, I think, overcome 3 years of an invisible brand.
      .
      Then you have attitudes like this, which is harder to overcome. The NoRightTurn “Earning That Reputation” series of blog postings suggest a starting point perhaps.

      • Colonial Viper 4.1.1

        We have helped create a superficial, shallow thinking, image driven society. Can we expect differently.

        • Cin77 4.1.1.1

          Theres the crux of the problem. People want celebrities these days. How many people voted for John Key because they recognised him from the National billboards and the news? We will never know for sure, but I bet its a fair few.

        • Hami Shearlie 4.1.1.2

          Agreed! People have got very shallow! We now have Melissa(Not a Clue) Lee and Maggie(Prickly-Pear)Barry in parliament. Has-been “stars” of tv shows in the distant past! Paula Bennett even tried to get the former Prime newsreader Suzy Clarkson to run in the Tamaki electorate. We have seen how clueless Melissa Lee is, Maggie won’t be much better I’m afraid. She already tossing her weight around in the North Shore Electorate, telling the Council what the people want. She’s never lived here, how would she know what we want? Maybe she and Melissa could start a Key Cheerleaders Group? Aren’t the women mps’ in national real sycophants, gushing about John Key. Makes you ashamed to be female -eww! Hekia Parata said “he’s a rock star” – Hekia – get new glasses!

    • prism 4.2

      “They are all the same’ is such a cliche and any political journalist coming out with it deserves a well-placed boot on the backside. It is their job to look at the parties and their plans and to explain what each party’s approach is and the direction it will take. Not to sit around as if it was a wet Sunday or a blue Monday waiting for easy scuttlebutt or contentious arguments.

      • seeker 4.2.1

        I rang the editorial of the Herald, the Herald online, the Dompost, TVNZ news and Close Up and TV3 news and Campbell Live and asked them to do just what you have suggested Prism. Outcome- Zilch, although the Herald on line did sort of post Labour’s policies on their Election 2O11 site. They got a couple in the wrong place, but moved them when I pointed it out to them, and thanked me.

        However the sub-editing of the headlines left much to be desired and the report was generally brief thus was often hard to tell that the report was a new policy from Labour. Of course only Labour were putting out comprehensive , detailed policy after policy, all through the world cup and beyond. They had to, to keep up with themselves. Labour was so up to the mark, but it was mainly the Herald that published them, online anyway, and in a rather half -hearted and almost camouflaged way. But at least they had a go and also gathered them in one place, sort of.The Dom.Post did not follow suit ,even tho’ I suggested it, and I didn’t bother with the Press.

        I really felt for Labour who worked so hard to create some stunning policies only to have them half hidden from the mainstream public; a public who would not generally know that Scoop and press releases of policies existed, and would need the policies actually plonked under their noses.

        All Labour’s hard work is now for nothing ,I thought to myself. All those fantastic ideas, some of which could have really made a big difference, and now we are back to the same old government, with no real policies, no real plan A and certainly no plan B and only real pain for the majority of us .
        What were 48% of the electorate thinking?
        Perhaps what the media had, or had not, given them to think with? Either way it was another fine outcome for social engineering 2011 from our erstwhile political reporters and commentators, and nearly as good as the 2008 attempt.

        • Colonial Viper 4.2.1.1

          That 48% of the electorate, as well as the >25% of registered voters who did not bother to vote. What were they thinking indeed.

          We need a left wing MSM.

          • mik e 4.2.1.1.1

            email twitter and facebook youtube are where we can make headway set up our own media a lot more people especially young people who didn,t vote use these mediums.

            • Akldnut 4.2.1.1.1.1

              Make it compulsory to register in year ten at high school by staff and put a fine /debit in place to make them vote or at least register a non vote which could be data linked and administered by IRD.

            • Jum 4.2.1.1.1.2

              mik e,

              Having spent a short time listening to how young uni students think I was appalled to see they thought Labour’s policies were funny. It was so funny to know that Labour was trying to save state owned assets from overseas and wealthy NZ interests for NZ’s future generations. It was sidesplitting to hear that Phil Goff was well-meaning but not as personable as the mask of John Key, etc etc etc.

              The tutor was an absolute hoot – never seen such an excellent attempt to remain objective but invite people to speak who rubbished Labour because they were seeking votes for their own pet parties, like Michelle Boag for National, a Green’s candidate who was almost convinced they would not side with National and the moveable feast that is Unite/Mana campaigner, McCarten.

              Yeah, youth were going to vote for the Greens or Mana, neither of which would save our SOEs. Not even McCarten who recognises that NActMU will happily sell and buy up large.

              All selfish, greedy, ruthless actions – all befitting the character of the moneytrader leader they worship – Key.

              Bruce Jesson would be turning in his grave.

          • Vicky32 4.2.1.1.2

            Everyone keeps saying we need a left wing MSM, but nobody does anything about it! 😀
            Someone should – does anyone have any ideas?

    • Well, from a Bryce Edwards perspective, this is largely right: National wanted to part-sell state-owned corporations to the private sector. Labour wanted to keep ownership public, but they’d still be corporations, still tasked with making a profit, and still increasing their prices at substantially faster than inflation.
      If you didn’t want a party leading the government who thought a corporate profit motives should lead the operation of utilities, what part should you have voted for?

  5. tsmithfield 5

    Agree entirely with this article.

    I would love to have seen more in depth analysis of the policies of the two main parties especially.

  6. King Kong 6

    Wah wah…the media hate us…they are forcing voters to vote the wrong way or not vote at all!!!!

    Pathetic and boring loser talk.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 6.1

      And your own comment here makes you …pathetic …. boring …loser ?

    • freedom 6.2

      Kong, please explain then the plethora of articles that have appeared in the last 48 hours that openly discuss economic troubles topics and events that occured days if not weeks ago, yet were not seen or heard of in the period before the Election.

      and after that, grow up or piss off back to whatever kindergarten you escaped from. People here are actively and consciously attempting to communicate honestly with each other and share ideas that elucidate the complex circumstances, prepare for the disastrous scenarios ahead and attempt to identify solutions.

      but hey what do i know,
      maybe you are a brain surgeon who just takes the personae of an ignoramus in their spare time

      • Tom Gould 6.2.1

        Latest example, story on how tax rorts are costing us $7b in lost tax. Couple of weeks back, Labour suggested cracking down on tax rorts would raise billions, and was ridiculed in the MSM and by the big chooks.

        • freedom 6.2.1.1

          As ianmac mentions below there are known elements who sense the problem is rife
          maybe someone should tell them all to stand up for the ethics of journalism
          but i will not hold my breath.

          In our current economy the journalists’ self-protective burden of ongoing employment constantly outweighs the public’s right to be informed in this war.

          i think it’s time to go looking for some white feathers

        • Draco T Bastard 6.2.1.2

          Got link?

    • Colonial Viper 6.3

      Apparently KK believes that the MSM does not influence peoples decisions and actions.

      • Tom Gould 6.3.1

        If that were so, how do they explain the advertising that litters their pages and screens? Carefully constructed and focus grouped messaging and imagery in an advert persuades and influences, but carefully constructed and focus grouped messaging and imagery in a news story, say one of the thousands about Key for example, does not persuade or influence? Ah, I get it now.

    • mik e 6.4

      KK you should join the Klueless klutz Klan

    • Cin77 6.5

      round and round the mulberry bush…

    • Reason cites the same study I did, here.

      There’s an effect of sporting success by local teams on elections, it seems. That doesn’t surprise me.

      If we reflect on our own decision making, it’s pretty clear we have an ‘inchoate sense of things’ pushing us along. It sits behind any rationalisations we might wish others (and ourselves) to believe are the ‘reasons’ for our so-called decisions and consequent behaviours.

      That ‘inchoate sense’ is merely the world gushing through our particular form of being (human sensory system, human nervous system, human social system, individual history of development, etc.). Ultimately, we are not in control of ourselves. We are the leading froth on a wave caused by a multitude of factors.

      Personhood is a sociocultural artefact that has the job of being held responsible for actions – but that doesn’t mean that there is, in fact, any ‘thing’ that is actually responsible.

      So, I guess I shouldn’t blame individuals for voting for John Key – even if I want to … then again … at the end of the day, I’m still a player in the game 🙂

  7. Tracey 8

    An editor will not “out” himself and their journalists as mere receptacles of press releases. I’ve been trying to find out how Justin Bieber is today, and can’t find it, I do know that Michael Jackson’s doctor is going to prison. Phew, the herald has me int he important news loop.

  8. ianmac 9

    Brian Edwards reckons that some of the journalist that he knows who work at the Herald, are very frustrated at the direction at the Herald.

  9. prism 10

    For sure the newspapers don’t carry serious stories such as they did in the early colonial days. Things then tended to be soberly reported in depth, which would have been boring to airheads, but they weren’t catering for fun-lovers then.

    Now I remember from election comments in the recent past, journalists complaining if there was nothing interesting or exciting happening. Titillation is the rage now, where page 3 photos would be placed alongside or slightly higher than politicians utterances relating to our very lives and essence.

  10. Cannot think of a clever name 11

    It’s a general trend with the media – lowest common denominator, sound bites etc. Something requiring thoughtful analysis is seen as turning off viewers. Combine that with the reduction of true journalism driven by cost reduction and we barely get more than a re-phrasing of a PR release half the time. Considering both sides of the political spectrum complain vociferously about the media it does imply they are less and less relevant – even though they could and arguably should be.

    However, I had the impression that the reduction in voting turnouts was a wider phenomenon in the western world and part of a long term trend, which implies it is probably a wider issue than the media.

  11. randal 12

    when the media is more interested if a politician has skidmarks in his underpants then this is the result.
    the media is infantilised and dishonest.
    they are employed as decoys and confabulators.
    when did you last read a decent story about politics in the media?
    look at tracy watkins this morning in the dompost.
    all she had to write about was whether there would be blood on the floor after LABOUR CHOOSES A LEADER.
    NEVER MIND THAT THIS IS A DEMOCRACY AND THIS IS PART OF THE PROCESS.
    it was all ifs and buts and speculations and more wasted space but then that is the way they like it.
    educating people is not on their agenda.
    filling inthe space between the ads is what it has come down to.
    and watkins looks like she has had one too many sausage rolls too.

    • NattyM 12.1

      I agree Randal. Watkins’ article was a pathetic attempt at a beat up of what is a normal process any party goes through when selecting a new leader. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her pop up as a ministerial press officer in the near future.

  12. Olwyn 13

    It used to be said that print media reached the greatest possible readership by using language set at a reading age of 15 years. It seems as if the media in general have extended that thesis to include a psychological age of 15 years as well. The difference is, an adult whose reading age is that of a 15-year-old is not degraded; he just has a limit to the number of words that he can read and understand, whereas an adult who remains at the psychological age of 15 is less than a fully functioning adult.

    When I look at those “this day in history” columns, I think that our age will generate very few of them. To find a gem future people would have to trundle through miles of boob jobs, divorces, etc, of people who have been on reality TV or something, and who will not be easily placed after five, let alone 50, years.

  13. ropata 14

    Let’s step back in time for a minute.

    In 1984 Muldoon pushed NZ to the brink of economic chaos, with his radical authoritarian policies (thanks FPP).

    I remember the gravitas of David Lange telling NZ the sober truth, that tough times were ahead and we all needed to work together to get out of National’s mess.

    New Zealand was a different place then. A real sense of community still existed, the state owned massive assets in the Post Office, NZ Rail, NZ Steel, and the Ministry of Energy (pre Electricorp). There were import tariffs on everything and a lot more local industry. Luxury goods were expensive but housing was affordable.

    I think the reason for Labour’s disconnect from its potential electorate isn’t completely a media problem it’s a wider cultural problem. Much more of the “me first” philosophy prevails, egalitarian values are old fashioned, an unequal society is accepted as the norm, with working class voters basically left feeling powerless in the face of the apparent Johnkey juggernaut.

    Labour’s challenge is to motivate and galvanise their base. Their policies are excellent and far better for all New Zealand than the blue team. Maybe it will take another 3 years for people to figure that out.

    Meanwhile people are too enamoured with JK’s feel good public image, but that won’t last if the media would bother to honestly represent the struggles of many to survive in modern NZ. More exposés such as the underclass doco last week. Less crap about Parnell gossip of or the price of Brierley shares.

    • jaymam 14.1

      “housing was affordable”
      Back in those days, banks wouldn’t lend more than 70% of the house value. First home buyers could get a State Advances loan at 3%, half the normal rate. The child benefit could be capitalised as a deposit,. i.e. child benefit payments up until age 18 could be taken as a lump sum to buy a house.
      All of that enabled young families to buy a house ahead of property speculators.

  14. Blue 15

    For three years the media presented the 2011 election as a foregone conclusion. You didn’t even really need to hold it, according to them, because there was never any other possible outcome than a National victory.

    For three years all we heard from them was ‘National are popular. You like them. Labour are unpopular. You don’t like them. John Key is popular. You love him. Phil Goff is unpopular. You don’t like him.’

    Every time Labour put a policy out it was framed as ‘Oh, here’s another desperate attempt by a deeply unpopular party to make you like them.’

    Even if it was a policy they considered ‘good’ it was written off with ‘oh, nice attempt, but they’re still going to lose by a record margin’.

    Every time a poll came out the headlines blared ‘National will govern alone with huge majority! Labour sinks to horrible new low!’

    Geez, wonder why the voter turnout was so low eh? Can’t quite work out why so many people thought that their vote wouldn’t make any difference…

  15. Olwyn 16

    After the three Davids interview on Close-Up; Sainsbury read out three emails, all in one way or another derisive. Since he had enough votes on this phone poll to break down into percentages like 31% for instance, I am sure he will also have had others to choose from so as to at least present a mixture of responses.

  16. Barry 17

    I think a lot of people didn’t vote because they weren’t inspired by the government but not hurting enough to want to get rid of them. The rest is irrelevant.

  17. Afewknowthetruth 18

    WJ.

    Excellent!

    We might add:

    Coming in 2014, ‘How we survived the 3 years of a National government by eating our neighbours pets’, and planned for the 2016 season, ‘The quest for unused the bicycle tyre’.

    Actually, I maintained for a long time that the last thing viewers will see before the screen goes blank for the last time will be motor racing. Now I wonder if it might be an economist or political correspondent telling us ‘Growth of 2.3% is forecast for next year’.

    The fact is, fewer and fewer people are reading/watching the drivel the maintream media churn out these days- ‘Ex-rugby player’s mother’s lover suspected of throwing lawn clippings over the fence’, ‘Is it worth the risk of travelling to India for your next breast implant operation?’

    All it will take is a bit more erosion of the advertising dollar to see large chunks of the mainstream media go under.

    I do wonder how those who are addicted to nonsense and are looking forward to the next instalment of ‘Will & Kate’s bedroon secrets’ will cope with having to collect water from a stream to survive.

    • “eating our neighbours pets”
      I’m sure there are ratings in that idea.
      Alison Holst could host it. “Tiddles with a cheese sauce made in a jiffy”. 
       
      Of course on the corporate side of things we could have Richard in Countdown offering cooking tips for a family of four with a weeks worth of recipes of Escargot (i.e. Giant Snails scraped off the Denniston plateau – for as long as the supply lasts) with a picture of Gerry, with a bib and cheese all over his face – “If it’s good enough for Gerry…”
       
      ‘Will & Kate’s bedroom secrets’ brilliant-  as presented by HRH William Wales.
      “I take my lady wife like this and I …..just as my father did with my step-mother……..
      Chapter 4 : Role play – “I’m a little tampon…”
       

    • Hami Shearlie 18.2

      They won’t be allowed to collect water from a stream! Streams will be privatised by then, to pay for botox, ear-hair plucking and back waxing for the farmers! National want us to pay for their irrigation – what’s next?

  18. Jum 19

    “I’m not saying that it’s “all the media’s fault” – it is what it is, and we have to live with it. But in any consideration of reasons for falling voter turnout, an honest media would have to put itself on the list.”

    ‘Learn to live with it’. What? If Labour had had a hard copy to advertise its policies and people we would have had a better chance for people to engage and question and vote intelligently.

    Blogs are not used by every New Zealander. The media is owned by people who don’t have the interests of workers at heart.

    You need radio, papers and blogs – equally. Your blog sounded promising. Then I read various newspapers – their message was the opposite. Newspapers won the war because more people read than blog. More people listen to radio than blog.

    What a waste of 3 years. The great message of Labour that deserved to get out didn’t.

    • Vicky32 19.1

      Newspapers won the war because more people read than blog. More people listen to radio than blog.

      That’s sadly true! I listen to the radio, I don’t read newspapers any more, and when I say “I heard on the radio”, people look blank… and even blanker when I say “I read on the Standard”…
      The trouble is most people listen to commercial radio!

  19. randal 20

    dont sweat it.
    kweewee and the kweewee party will go ‘poof’ before the end of his term.

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